Play Your Cards

In high-stakes poker, there is a natural assumption that takes place. While we know the cards we’ve been dealt, we are left in the dark when it comes to what is in our opponent’s hands. No matter the cards we have, not knowing what lies in someone else’s can push us to raise the bet, or fold our cards.

This principle of poker is one I’ve found runs parallel to life. Ideally, we focus on our own cards and play that hand to the best of our ability. But far too often, we end up making assumptions about another’s cards. We all know what happens when we assume, but it doesn’t seem to stop our inclination to make educated guesses in the game of life.

We believe we are full-knowing of a person’s thoughts and feelings, and why certain actions result from them. I’m guilty when it comes to assuming what another person is thinking and feeling, even when I’m missing most of the details.

It’s hard not to make assumptions when our brains are wired to fill in the missing parts of a story.  Someone zooms passed us on the thruway and not knowing why, we assume they are maniac. The barista making our coffee isn’t chipper when they hand us our caffeine fix, and we assume they are miserable. When a friend suddenly becomes weirdly distant, we assume we’ve done something wrong and have ended up hurting a relationship.

In those instances, we are operating in trying to create a story that we can make sense of and in doing so connect dots that may or may not be worth connecting. The maniac driver could be rushing to the hospital. The miserable barista could’ve just broke up with their partner. The distant friend could be down in the dumps, and just wants some alone time.

If you’re like me, it is easy to jump to the worst-case scenario, but it only makes matters worse. It goes against our own mental wiring to not assume, especially when details are missing. We look for clues to put the pieces of the puzzle and understand the picture that is forming. But sometimes in doing so we are trying to connect puzzle pieces that don’t fit, or pieces from a completely different puzzle. It creates a confusing mess that only creates inauthentic and confusing narratives, and leads us down a rabbit hole of guessing that never comes to a neat and clean conclusion.

I’ve had my fair share of making assumptions when it came to all sorts of relationships and experiences. These have resulted in feeling crummy about myself and alienating others. After a recent experience with assuming what someone else was going through, a friend gave me the advice to focus on only what I could control – the cards I’d been dealt.

It may be counterintuitive to not assume, but when you can refocus on what is controllable, there is a sense of empowerment you give yourself. I could control my own thoughts, feelings and actions, but I couldn’t control the other person’s, and that is okay. We never really know what another person is going through, or carrying, so allowing our own thoughts, feelings and actions to be rooted in empathy, and not to be catalysts for a witch hunt for answers, can be the best way of giving ourselves a better sense of peace. Being comfortable with simply doing our part may not seem like enough, but in reality it gives our relationships and experiences the healthiest opportunity to be authentically what they are, and what they are meant to be.

The game of assumption is a tricky one, especially as our brain can take us to places we didn’t know existed. But when the hamster wheel begins to move, try your hardest to make it stop. Refocus on your cards. Would you rather bet a hand you feel good about, or bet on something completely uncertain? When you begin to rely on what you can control – your own thoughts, feelings and actions – you’ll not only feel more confident in yourself as a person, but your relationships will thank you for it, too.




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